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Are Recyclables Really Getting Recycled?

Are Recyclables Really Getting Recycled?

The New York Times tells us that “Plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are being dumped in landfills after China stopped recycling most ‘foreign garbage." This may be a terrifying thought and rightly so. However, it is important to dig into this issue and see what the cause is and what might be able to be done to rectify the situation.

Changing the Face of Recycling

What many people do not realize is that locally collected recycling is almost never recycled locally. In fact, most is not even recycled within the same state it was collected in, or even in the same country. Many regions across the United States have always shipped much of their paper, plastics and other scrap materials to China to be recycled and processed there. It was an affordable option that allowed states to do wide-scale recycling in a manner that was affordable and did not impact local areas as much as it could.

However, that changed when China announced last summer as part of its crackdown on pollution and waste production that it no longer wanted to import garbage and recycling materials from forging countries. This includes the United States. Since January 1st of this year, China has banned the imports of various types of recyclable material and tightened standards and regulations for many of the materials it does still accept.

While some recycle centers and waste management operators are already sending their recyclable materials for processing to other international sites or finding a local and domestic alternative, many are struggling to find a replacement for the China recycling option. This is leaving many regions across the country in a state of limbo with no place to send their recyclable materials; which means a lot is ending up right back in the landfill. “All of a sudden, material being collected on the street doesn't have a place to go,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the largest waste managers in the country.

What many people do not realize is that locally collected recycling is almost never recycled locally. In fact, most is not even recycled within the same state it was collected in, or even in the same country.

What This Really Means

This move is not really surprising when one considers the scope of what has been happening in China over the last decade and where the problem areas have been. One of the biggest areas of concern for the country has been pollution, and many in the area feel the easiest and best ways to cut down on pollution is to stop offering services which create a lot of waste and pollution on its own, to those outside of the country. It would be like if the United States had been offering water filtration services to another country where we took their water, cleaned it and sent it back or used it ourselves. It would take a lot of resources, and energy to do this and there would be some degree of waste we would have to contend with. We might not get enough clean water to make up for our cost and investment. This is similar to what China is facing now with its plans to cut back on recycling other nation’s plastic, paper, cans, and other garbage. It simply isn’t profitable and sustainable for them to do so.

The effects are already being felt in the United States, and we are already having to turn to plan B to cope and keep up with recycling programs and goals. Time will tell how much more will need to be done! Call us at Central Kentucky Fibers Resources with any questions you may have about China's ban and how it may affect your business.